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GPs urged to go 'full throttle' in accelerating vaccination

Fergus Walsh | 08:57 UK time, Friday, 27 November 2009

Around one million people in England are now estimated to have been vaccinated against swine flu.

Across the UK, 10 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed to GPs and hospitals.

That one million figure refers to those in the initial priority groups, such as those with chronic asthma, heart and other organ disease, immune problems and pregnant women.

Clearly there is still a long way to go. There are nine million people in the priority groups in England, and around 11.5 million across the UK. Then add to that the three million or more under fives who will be offered the jab after that.

Professor David Salisbury, Director of Immunisation at the Department of Health said he hoped GPs would now be able to accelerate the vaccination process:

"All GPs have now had some vaccine and we are now at the stage of re-stocking them and so the brakes can come off to some extent. We'd like to get the priority groups vaccinated before Christmas, and there will be enough vaccine to do that. GPs don't want to call in patients if they are unsure there have enough vaccine, but now they know they have it in the fridge they can go full throttle."

Professor Salisbury said he wanted doctors to get through the priority groups as quickly as possible so that they could move on to immunising children under five.

Carers for the elderly and disabled will also be entitled to receive the swine flu jab once the initial priority groups have been cleared.

I hope this answers some of the questions many of you have raised about the roll-out of the vaccine.

There are no figures yet for the uptake of vaccine among more than two million front-line health workers.

But Ian Dalton, National Director for Flu Resilience said that "informal conversations" had shown promising levels of uptake. He gave some examples:

• West Midlands Ambulance Service has offered the jab to around 1,000 front line staff and 70% have accepted.
• Guy's and St Thomas' Hospitals have received 2,000 doses and used 1,500 already.
• They have also immunised 4,000 staff against seasonal flu, double the number last year.

So how much swine flu is there in Britain at present? Estimated figures from across the UK suggest cases are falling very slightly but the number of deaths is rising sharply.

Indeed the past week has seen the biggest single rise in deaths since the pandemic began.

UK deaths to date related to H1N1 swine flu: 245
163 England
13 Northern Ireland
46 Scotland
23 Wales

Why are deaths rising if cases are falling? Firstly, remember that weekly estimates for the number of cases of swine flu are probably wildly out (but are useful for showing trends over time).

The latest weekly estimate for England was 46,000 cases of swine flu with a cumulative total of 760,000. But since the Health Protection Agency now reckons that one in five children may have had swine flu, that cumulative figure maybe just a tenth of the real total (and that's just my guess).

I've discussed this apparent contradiction about falling cases and rising death rates earlier this month - something that has been seen in other countries.

It's important to note that there is no evidence that the H1N1 swine flu virus is mutating into something more deadly.

Finally a few graphs - very useful for showing trends. My thanks to the Department of Health and the RCGP for supplying the data:

Influenza-like illness England and Wales

You can see that the rate of flu is now about average for this time of year but well below the peak we saw in July.

Hospitalised patients in England

This is a snapshot of the number of patients in hospital in England with suspected swine flu related illness as of 25 November. It's always worth showing this because it's a reminder that while flu is mild for most, for a small minority it can be very serious.

Confirmed deaths related to swine flu by week

This is the first time I've seen this. It reveals the death toll from swine flu, in England from week to week. You can see that the rate has risen throughout November.

Useful resources:

Detailed UK weekly epidemiology update
Swine flu figures for Northern Ireland
Swine flu figures for Scotland
Swine flu figures for Wales

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